Segundo Torrent Pack #11 Released

The eleventh Bat Segundo torrent pack has been uploaded to The Pirate Bay. This torrent pack includes interviews with Mark Sarvas, Errol Morris, Sarah Hall, Tobias Wolff, Ed Park, Ralph Bakshi, Mort Walker, Rachel Shukert, and Thomas M. Disch.

To download the other ten packs, some of which are now being seeded by a few other parties, start here. Be sure to download and be sure to help seed the torrents!

I’ll release a twelfth torrent pack when we get to Show #240, which will probably be sometime in the next few weeks.

Fair is Fair

A few days ago, Gregory Cowles was upbraided on these pages for getting his facts incorrect in relation to a blog post concerning itself with the Franzen/Marcus affair that went down in Harper’s over the past few years. The error was not noted with the Gray Lady’s customary regret, but it was observed respectfully by Mr. Cowles in a supplement to his post at Paper Cuts.

Nevertheless, upon seeing Mr. Cowles’s name in this Sunday’s NYTBR attached to a review of David Harris’s The Genius — a book concerning itself with the late 49ers football coach Bill Walsh — and being particularly knowledgeable about this period in football history, I felt compelled to check his facts. If Mr. Cowles’s phrasing is somewhat borrowed from Dave Anderson’s New York Times article reporting on The Catch on January 10, 1982, Mr. Cowles, nevertheless, does have his facts straight this time. And Mr. Cowles is to be commended not only for being accurate (as the above YouTube video of the drive in question indicates), but for writing a piece about football that does not carry the NYTBR‘s usual stuffiness.

So congratulations, Mr. Cowles. You did good this time. But rest assured. I’ll be watching.

NYFF: RR (2007)

[This is the first part in an open series of reports from the New York Film Festival.]

“You know, I have a copy of The Rape of Europa.”

“The lineup this year was so predictable. It was almost as if they knew how to control my reactions with the programming.”

“I’ve seen so many trainspotting books. So I know what to expect from this film.”

“He’s very enthusiastic about writing for the Web. Yes, it’s not print. But it’s still something.”

These were some of the astonishing sentences that trickled into my upturned ears during the first day of press screenings for the New York Film Festival. And while I plan to cover as many of these films as I can on these pages in a quasi-gonzo style, supplementing these reports with podcasts, I feel the need to declare a few things at the onset: (a) I enjoy writing for the Web and consider it more than just “something,” (b) I have no intention of going into a film and judging on what it might be before I have seen it, and (c) if New York Post film critic Lou Lumenick tries to pull some shit with me, I will kick his ass.

Ozu, of course, loved his train shots. And one of the lengthiest shots in Godfrey Reggio’s Powaqqatsi involves a freight train rolling past the camera, gradually speeding up, for about two minutes. But James Benning’s RR, part of this year’s avant-garde series falls somewhere between a Situationist cinematic exercise and an Andy Warhol film. The film is composed of nothing more than static shots of trains, the camera serving almost as a surrogate driver waiting at a railroad crossing (hence the film’s title, which, if you are a trainspotter, could likewise stand for “rest and relaxation”). Each shot begins with the train arriving and ends with the train leaving. The film, containing nothing more than visuals and sound, intercuts these long takes with a few seconds of black leader. And the film’s 16mm format lends it a grad school feel that admirably deflates its artistic pretensions. I don’t know if it could work as well on 35mm. But it is a rather interesting cinematic experience for anyone fascinated with everyday minutiae.

It is a film that requires patience. I certainly don’t believe that this film quite warranted its 111 minute running time. And RR‘s nearly unwavering commitment to landscape over humans does cause one long for a few souls ambling around in the distance. (Near the end of the film, Benning does give us a gentleman emerging from camera left, walking well into the distance and staring at a passing train to share our vicarious passiveness.)

But the trains, rolling through plains, rusty bridges, snowscapes, and dilapidated freight yards, do cause us to dwell on interesting details. I became acutely aware of vegetation and plant life slowly dying and wildly overgrowing close to the tracks. The multihued boxcars and the rolling shadows frequently overtake these sometimes dull landscapes. But as the film progresses, Benning does something quite interesting. In the film’s early shots, there is a sense of anticipatory timing. When will the train first appear? This offers a brief moment to fixate on a beautiful scene of, say, trees and rivers, before the train occludes the view. When the train does arrive, the viewer is left to fixate her attentions on the scrub weed, abandoned blue plastic bags, and dessicated goldenrods that litter “our” side of the tracks. But as the shots continue to come, Benning gives us less time to get our bearings. And when Benning cuts early, the trains begin including a few vacant boxcars that offer hollow recesses and/or hollow frames. And the train’s recurrent bifurcation becomes so imposing that we then start to focus more on the landscape on our side of the view, only to begin ignoring the train itself. In fact, I became so accustomed to doing this that, at one point, I began to fixate on croaking frogs and almost completely overlooked the fact that the train in question was composed of only one car. There are surprises here. But you have to have an attention span.

As the film began to adjust the camera’s relative distance from the train from shot to shot, I also found myself shifting in my seat: moving forward when the train was too far and moving backwards when the train was too close. I found it quite alarming that there was a set distance in which I was comfortable perceiving the train. And I must express some gratitude to Benning for making me aware of this programmed tendency. Who knew?

When the film juxtaposes radio snippets over its visuals, such as “This Land is Your Land,” some religious nut on the radio, and Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex speech, to impart a bogus significance, I felt the film failed. The film is more true and intriguing when it concerns itself with the unexpected sounds that the train decimates or succumbs to — whether wildlife whooping off-screen, profanity-laced hip-hop blaring from trailers hitched across the tracks, or a loud motorboat speeding beneath a bridge. Benning has claimed in an interview that this film “came to be about consumerism and overconsumption.” But this suggests great political import that really isn’t here. This is a film specializing in the American relationship with landscape. But if it were about the goods transported within freight trains, surely we would have been permitted a glimpse inside? An occasional shot of a bulldozer tied down on a platform or a car bogged down with lumber simply doesn’t cut it. The relationship here doesn’t seem that political to me, even with the film’s final shot in a wind farm. But depending upon how patient or open-minded you are, it may or may not be your kind of ride.

The Bat Segundo Show: Bonnie Tyler

Bonnie Tyler appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #237. Tyler is the legendary singer behind such tracks as “Vernal Equinox of the Mind” and “Holding Out for a Supervillain.”

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Nothing he can say, a total eclipse of the Bat

Guest: Bonnie Tyler

Subjects Discussed: Tyler co-writing most of the tracks on the album, Wings, singing vs. songwriting, breaking up with managers, shyness, hairs that stand up on the back of the neck, turning down a song by Jim Steinman, songs that involve the devil, Desmond Child, James Bond, Tyler turning down the Never Say Never Again theme, Heartstrings and recording cover songs mostly from male recording artists, the song selection process, Meat Loaf, rehearsing “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” the seven minute opuses on Faster Than the Speed of Night, a group of passengers who were traumatized by Tyler singing on an Air France jet, Noel Gallagher, contending with hardcore fans, a 15-year-old Australian who claimed to be Tyler’s daughter, avoiding retirement, the number of shows Tyler performs a year, the endless onslaught of greatest hits albums, the Psion SMX and iPods, country music, Duffy, what Bonnie reads, Les Dawson, Tyler tells a bawdy joke, Botox, ageism, music videos and photo shoots, being judged on physical appearance, looks vs. voice, MTV and YouTube videos, the nightmare of making music videos, restrictions from record companies, independent labels, and music and the Internet.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: Going back to Wings, I actually wanted to talk about “Crying in Berlin.” This song, out of all the songs that I’ve listened to of yours, sounds the most like a James Bond song. And I do know the Hindustan Times reported in 2006 that the only thing that could bring you out of retirement was recording a James Bond theme of some sort. I’m wondering if you’ve considered approaching the Bond producers to sing a song just as you called up and contacted [Jim] Steinman, and said, “Hey, I want you to go ahead and produce this particular album.”

Tyler: No. It just happened. They just asked me. Would I like to do a song? And they sent me the song. “Never Say Never,” right?

Correspondent: Yeah.

Tyler: And I listened to it, and I thought, “Ugh! Shit! I don’t like it.”

Correspondent: It is one of the weakest of all the Bond themes.

Tyler: I really would die to do a James Bond song, you know? But I can’t do it. My heart wouldn’t have been in it. I had to turn it down. Now how many people turn down a Bond song, I don’t know. But I turned it down because I didn’t like it. And I was proved right. Because I think out of all the songs.

Correspondent: Who remembers it?

Tyler: I can’t even remember it.

Correspondent: (sings) “Never say never again.” Yeah, I know.

Tyler: I don’t remember. It didn’t appeal to me at all. So I turned it down. And that’s the only regret that I have. But it was…

Correspondent: It wasn’t actually an official Bond movie, technically speaking. Because it was produced outside the [Albert] Broccoli camp. So I think you’re on safe ground.

Tyler: It was a Bond movie!

Correspondent: It was a Bond movie, but it wasn’t official under the Albert Broccoli camp. It was a Sean Connery once-over. Because it was also Thunderball revisited.

Tyler: Whatever. I got offered one and I turned it down.

Correspondent: Did you consider reapproaching them and saying, “Hey, I’d love to do a James Bond song. But this one doesn’t cut it. Can I bring in one of these many songwriters who are sending me songs?” Did you try that tactic?

Tyler: No, I didn’t. But you’ve just given me a good idea. (laughs)

BSS #237: Bonnie Tyler (Download MP3)

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Gregory Cowles Says Gaddis “Not Difficult,” But Doesn’t Know How to Read Properly

Displaying the kind of literary hubris that David Markson once skewered in This is Not a Novel (“See Professor Bloom read the 1961 corrected and reset Random House edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses in one hour and thirty-three minutes. Not one page stinted. Unforgettable!”), the New York Times‘s Gregory Cowles claims that William Gaddis’s Carpenter’s Gothic “is not in fact all that difficult. For long stretches in this book, he was less difficult even than my sudoku puzzles.”

Gaddis may not be “that difficult” to Mr. Cowles’s perception, but its probably because Mr. Cowles lacks basic reading comprehension. You see, Cowles cites Cynthia Ozick’s “Literary Entrails” (Harper’s, April 2007), claiming that Ozick “summarized the debate and insisted that whatever the merits or demerits of experimental fiction, Gaddis himself wasn’t so tough. To prove it, she quoted a lovely passage from ‘Carpenter’s Gothic’…”

Too bad for Cowles that Ozick’s original article is available online. While Ozick did indeed offer a summary for those who were spared the literary cockfight between Jonathan Franzen and Ben Marcus, the passage that Cowles quotes is the one that Marcus quotes in his article. So not only did Ozick not cite the passage that Cowles quoted, but she didn’t even write about Carpenter’s Gothic in her essay! (The Gaddis novel under discussion was A Frolic of His Own and, specifically, the Marcus-Frazen wars over that book.) Nor did Ozick claim that Gaddis was easy or difficult. Her point in chiding “the boys in the alley” is that literature should not be judged on how difficult it may appear to be, but on the merits of the text. Any side fights involving readability indices, the speed and perspicacity of one’s faculties (and penis size), and the like were, as Ozick quite rightly pointed out unnecessary.

Never mind that one believes in diversion and the other dreams of potions. If the two of them are equally touchy and contentious and competitive, what has made them so is the one great plaint they have in common: the readers are going away.

I’m sure that reading Gaddis probably isn’t “difficult” if you can’t be bothered to read correctly. And Ozick’s point still holds. So long as illiterates like Mr. Cowles wax arrogantly and inaccurately about literature, the readers will indeed go away. Fortunately, the rest of us reading passionately still have it in us to be humbled and delighted by literature. (And for the record, The Recognitions was slow going for me when I first read it in my twenties. But it was worth every difficulty.)

Review: Choke (2008)

Writer-director Clark Gregg’s adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s 2001 novel has a number of things going for it. It has, first and foremost, the intriguing choice of Sam Rockwell cast as sex addict Victor Mancini. Rockwell plays this role as a strange amalgam of Greg Kinnear’s Bob Crane in Paul Schrader’s Auto Focus and Luke Wilson’s detached presence. His lanky mien suggests a Stan Laurel to the slightly chubby Brad William Henke’s Oliver Hardy. And while Henke here is not bad as Victor’s best friend and co-worker Denny, a chronic masturbator unafraid to lust after Victor’s mom (Angelica Houston), this comedic pair-up doesn’t quite anchor the film the way it should. Denny, like many wingmen before him, exists here mainly to pester Victor to move to “the fourth step,” or, in less Erhard-like terms, get on with his life or, as another character tells him later in the film, “to begin at the beginning.” With Victor, Denny attends support group meetings to help the pair get over their sex addiction. But Victor spends most of this time banging an anal bead enthusiast named Nico (Paz de la Heurta) in the backroom.

Rockwell’s look is certainly right. His shaggy brown hair, desperately in need of a haircut, frequently sticks up, suggesting a 1990s Northwestern slacker aesthetic. He wears shirts with gaping holes near the collar. He works a day job as a historical reenactor and, early on, declares directly to the camera, “I am the backbone of colonial America,” a postmodern possibility that Gregg never quite pursues that suggests that his addiction is a throwback to a more early and hypocritical age. Victor insists that he’s an asshole, but maintains a wide-eyed and bemused presence that seems perfectly aligned with the film’s often frustrating inability to decide whether it’s satirical or sincere.

No Country for Old Men‘s Kelly Macdonald appears as Paige Marshall, whose eyes were seemingly invented for the light, but who we know, upon her character’s first step inside the mise en scene, will almost certainly become Victor’s love interest and will almost certainly never live up to Bechdel’s Rule. Which is too bad. Because the more I see of Macdonald, the more I realize how much she has it. And it will take a very intelligent film director, perhaps one with more smarts than even the formidable Coens, to give her the role that will finally catapult her into the superstardom she deserves. Her presence in this film is part of the Big Reveal, which is a substantial copout. But then if you’ve read Palahniuk’s book, you know the Big Reveal already. And Macdonald likewise know it. Her character speaks in a particularly pronounced hayseed vernacular, pronouncing “traumatic” like “TRAW-MA-TIC.” But this permits her to play Paige as if she’s on the inside of a terrible joke.

The terrible joke may very well be the fact that David Fincher was not only the first director to make a film about a Palahniuk novel, but the one to transform it into his masterpiece. One cannot view Choke without being aware of Fight Club‘s imposing shadow. Like Fincher (and screenwriter Jim Uhls), Gregg has one interesting scene that plays as nihilistic absurdism. In Fight Club, it was the moment in which Edward Norton punched himself in the face to blackmail an office manger. In Choke, it’s presented when Rockwell insists to a group of asylum inmates that he’s not a good guy, proceeds to take away a walker from an older woman and smash it against a locker. But while there is something in this scene vaguely reminiscent of Lars von Trier’s The Idiots, the scene plays like some doughty transplant from a pre-9/11 America. It works to establish Victor’s internal dilemma, but it doesn’t feel particularly contemporary.

Gregg is at his best when he avoids this dated approach to shock value for the more troubling truths of the seemingly perverse, such as one moment involving a woman who Victor seeks out for a rape fantasy involving a knife. The woman sets very specific terms, speaking less like a person with fey needs and more like a human resources manager. (The safe word is “poodle.”) There’s also an interesting exchange in which Victor confronts the boyfriend of a woman who has fallen asleep giving him a hand job. Victor urges the boyfriend to turn back and walk away. But these scenes work because of their naturalistic ironies. They present moments that are not particularly normal, but frame them as if they are normal. Even when the dialogue itself feels transplanted from some banal sitcom. And to consider again Victor’s insistence that he is “the backbone of colonial America,” this suggests an American take on the many unusual situations of this type that one finds within Francois Ozon’s early, more daring films. I have neglected to point out that Victor has worked out a scam, whereby he lodges a piece of food in his throat, chokes, and wanders around a restaurant in search of the right benefactor to perform the Heimlich. He does this to earn some pocket money to help pay for his mother’s care in a hospital. It is something that occurs quite frequently throughout this film, but these moments, which should have likewise served as nihilistic absurdism, simply did not stand out for me. Part of this may have to do with Gregg’s inability to push things far enough. Gregg does not entirely understand, as Fincher did, that this is the kind of behavior must be played out as melodramatic in order to work. There is one somewhat funny moment in which the choke confidence game backfires at a Chinese restaurant. But the moment simply doesn’t have the naturalistic irony or the nuanced play of these other scenes I have mentioned. And in a film largely concerning itself with the subject of phoniness, it seems absolutely vital for a filmmaker to get the tone absolutely right.

Gregg’s film does disguise New Jersey locations somewhat successfully as the Northwest. The apartments are laced with tacky wallpaper. There are many dead patches of lawn on the historical reenactment site. There are unwashed radiators, grimy kitchen surfaces, and photographs tacked carelessly to walls. But the film’s many flashbacks to the 1970s and 1980s, containing muted browns and the kind of predictable tan jackets and vests that have become something of a production design cliche, reveal that this is more kitsch than verisimilitude. More of a time capsule than a movie of the moment.

Gregg has been mostly faithful to Palahniuk’s novel. But he doesn’t quite have Fincher’s talent to properly translate Palahniuk’s cartoonish riffs on reality to the big screen. He does have Victor and Denny frequently stare at women and suddenly see them topless, and this tic even extends to an older nun. But this isn’t really pushing the envelope, much less forcing us to ponder the perceptions we keep to ourselves. His efforts to plunge into the scatological, such as a moment in which Denny drinks out of a dish and an incident late in the film involving chocolate pudding, don’t feel particularly offensive and don’t particularly unsettle us the way they did in Palahniuk’s novel. It is also a telling sign that most of the sex scenes occur with clothes on. The vulnerable nature of being naked, which should mean something in light of the film’s dialectic between love and sex, is confined to “being in the circuit” late in the film. But it feels perfectly safe. The kind of thing you’d find within some harmless Skinemax movie from the 1980s.

If a Chuck Palahniuk film adaptation cannot unsettle us, what then is the point of making it?

Gregory McDonald Dead

Giles News is reporting that Gregory McDonald, the tremendously talented author of the Fletch series has died. I am now making efforts to confirm this. If this is true, this is a tremendous loss to American letters.

[UPDATE: I have confirmed by phone with Charlie of the Giles County Ambulance Service that Gregory McDonald passed away on Sunday. As soon as I have a chance to collect my thoughts and feelings, I plan to offer a full-length tribute here. I’m still in shock.]

I first encountered the Fletch books in the library when I was twelve. The ratty paperbacks were bound in taut cellophane. I didn’t understand why they hadn’t been released in hardcover. But as it turned out, there were complex reasons. I had, of course, known about the Chevy Chase movie. But Chase’s wisecracks (as conveyed through Andrew Bergman’s screenplay) weren’t even close to McDonald’s great barbs. The first Fletch book was driven almost entirely by dialogue, keeping up a momentum that sucked me into the text. The story goes that mystery purists were upset that McDonald published the Fletch books as paperback originals. They were also angered that McDonald had used sex and wit to draw readers into his novels. But McDonald wanted ordinary people to read them. McDonald’s Fletch books, however, were far from ordinary.

Here’s the first page from Fletch:

“What’s your name?”

“Fletch.”

“What’s your full name?”

“Fletcher.”

“What’s your first name?”

“Irwin.”

“What?”

“Irwin. Irwin Fletcher. People call me Fletch.”

“Irwin Fletcher, I have a proposition to make to you. I will give you a thousand dollars for just listening to it. If you decide to reject the proposition, you take the thousand dollars, go away, and never tell anyone we talked. Fair enough?”

“Is it criminal? I mean, what you want me to do?”

“Of course.”

“Fair enough. For a thousand bucks I can listen. What do you want me to do?”

“I want you to murder me.”

The black shoes tainted with sand came across the oriental rug. The man took an envelope from an inside pocket of his suit jacket and dropped it into Fletch’s lap. Inside were ten one-hundred-dollar bills.

Now what sane person wouldn’t want to continue reading this story? This opening is as gripping as the first page of James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice often taught in literature classes, but it likewise carries a concern for precision reminiscent of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. McDonald stubbornly resists description until the very end. He lets his characters convey the specifics through dialogue. We learn that Fletch is a casual sort who can’t abide fussy types using proper names. We learn immediately that he’s sharp, that he’s not going to permit himself to get caught up in illegal activity without considering all the details. We learn that the mysterious interlocutor is more concerned with specifics rather than logistics.

And then there’s that magnificent amateur quality juxtaposed against this questioner’s wealth. The sandy shoes indicate that this mysterious questioner probably isn’t what you might call experienced. But he does have a lot of money.

McDonald was able to set this very careful relationship, along with its many nuances, in a mere 138 words. And he was able to do this almost entirely through dialogue. He was an extraordinary writer. And what made him so extraordinary was his ability to merge this concern for detail with a tremendous ear for dialogue, down to the comma, producing books that could be enjoyed and appreciated by both popular and literary audiences. (A telling indicator of his mass appeal is that filmmaker Kevin Smith learned to write dialogue by reading the Fletch books. Smith snatched up all the movie rights to the Fletch series many years ago, but movies have yet to appear.)

But because McDonald insisted that ordinary readers were capable of basic intelligence, because he insisted that his books should be priced affordably, he was not taken as seriously as he deserved by the old guard. Fletch, nevertheless, would go on to win an Edgar Award for Best Novel. And the book’s sequel, Confess, Fletch, would win for Best Paperback Original.

By all accounts, McDonald was a private person. But Vintage Crime reissued all of the Fletch books a few years ago. And the work will live on.

RELATED: Thankfully, Don Swaim talked with McDonald twice. From the 1987 interview:

MCDONALD: There is a very exciting thing going on in this country. And that is that there have begun to be small publishers in places like Boston, Atlanta, San Francisco, Los Angeles, wherever. And they are not doing what the big commercial houses are doing, of trying to publish the imitation of last year’s imitation of last year’s imitation. And I’m sorry that I can’t cite you chapter and verse. But I am finding that these small publishing houses are creating or letting be published for the first time in a long time in American history and American literature, and they are publishing very exciting stuff, very real stuff, very original stuff, and taking the risks that the big commercial houses wouldn’t do. And they are nurturing the work, and they are nurturing the writers in a way that the big commercial houses don’t do. And I don’t mind at all throwing my lot in with them.

[UPDATE: Mere hours after this post went up, The Rap Sheet’s Cameron Hughes offered his “tribute,” seeing fit to use the same excerpt, similar phrasings, and similar examples from this post. Gee, thanks a lot, assholes.]

Demand Curry Accountability from John Sutherland!

Despite John Sutherland’s previous pledge that he would curry and eat his proof copy of Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence if the book did not win the Booker Prize, Mr. Sutherland revealed to the Guardian this morning that he would not fulfill his promise! He does say that he “might manage a custard pie on October 10.” But a custard pie isn’t good enough, Mr. Sutherland! A custard pie is not a curried proof copy! Not by a long shot!

This is curry hypocrisy of the first order!

The time has come to publicly scold Mr. Sutherland for failing to live up to the terms of the stunt. I therefore announce the John Sutherland Curry Hypocrite Photoshop Contest. Send in your graphical response to Sutherland’s curry flip-flopping, along with your URL and mailing address. I will post the entries over the next several weeks, as they come in. The winner of the contest will receive a copy of Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence. The email address is ed@edrants.com.

[UPDATE: Mr. Orthofer likewise takes Sutherland to task.]

Quick Roundup

Booker Shortlist Announced, John Sutherland Dinner Date In Works?

This year’s Man Booker Prize shortlist has been announced, and Rushdie is not on it.

What this means is that John Sutherland, who promised that he would curry and eat his proof copy of The Enchantress of Florence if Rushdie’s book did not win the Booker, is now under a certain gustatory obligation reminiscent of a certain German filmmaker.

If Sutherland does not eat his proof copy, then one can never take the man’s word seriously again. Never! Fair is fair, Sutherland. You promised to eat your proof copy. The time has come to live up to your pledge.

Here is the shortlist:

Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger
Sebastian Barry, The Secret Scripture
Amtiva Ghosh, Sea of Poppies
Linda Grant, The Clothes on Their Backs
Philip Hensher, The Northern Clemency
Steve Toltz, A Fraction of the Whole

[UPDATE: Sutherland won’t do it! He is not a man of his word. Tread carefully around Sutherland’s culinary duplicity! For shame!]

Segundo Torrents

The first 200 shows of The Bat Segundo Show are now available in torrent form. There were initially six torrent packs that were released last year. But a hard drive crash wiped those files. I have repacked the first six packs, and added four more. You can download these files using any torrent client. If you’re just starting out, I recommend utorrent.

Here are the links for the torrents:

Bat Segundo Torrent Pack #1 (Shows #1-20) — Includes David Mitchell I, Jonathan Ames I, Bret Easton Ellis, Octavia Butler, Aimee Bender, Chris Elliott, and Dave Barry.

Bat Segundo Torrent Pack #2 (Shows #21-40) — Includes William T. Vollmann, Jay McInerney, Erica Jong, Alex Robinson, Tom Tomorrow, Sarah Waters, and Harvey Pekar.

Bat Segundo Torrent Pack #3 (Shows #41-60) — Includes Colson Whitehead, John Updike, the two-part David Mitchell, Jonathan Safran Foer, A.M. Homes, Jeff VanderMeer, and Robert Birnbaum.

Bat Segundo Torrent Pack #4 (Shows #61-80) — Includes Alison Bechdel, Julia Glass, Tommy Chong, Annalee Newitz, Nora Ephron, Joe Eszterhas, Richard Dawkins, and Edward P. Jones.

Bat Segundo Torrent Pack #5 (Shows #81-100) — Includes Mary Gaitskill, Kelly Link, Francine Prose, Claire Messud, Simon Winchester, Amy Sedaris, Nina Hartley, Richard Ford, Christopher Moore, Neal Pollack, and David Lynch.

Bat Segundo Torrent Pack #6 (Shows #101-120) — Includes Martin Amis, Ron Jeremy, China Mieville, Tao Lin, Lionel Shriver, Scarlett Thomas, and the two-part Berkeley Breathed.

Bat Segundo Torrent Pack #7 (Shows #121-140) — Includes Gary Shteyngart, Richard Flanagan, Katie Roiphe, Kate Christensen, William Gibson, Marianne Wiggins, Gabe Kaplan, and Naomi Klein.

Bat Segundo Torrent Pack #8 (Shows #141-160) — Includes Chimamanda Adichie, Katha Pollitt, Steven Pinker, Naomi Wolf, James Lipton, Richard Russo, the two-part Tom McCarthy, Andrea Barrett, and Will Self.

Bat Segundo Torrent Pack #9 (Shows #161-180) — Includes Stewart O’Nan, the two-part David Rakoff, Sue Miller, Jami Attenberg, A.L. Kennedy, Charles Burns, Charles Bock, and Steve Erickson.

Bat Segundo Torrent Pack #10 (Shows #181-200) — Includes Samantha Hunt, Chip Kidd, Stephen Chow, Bill Plympton, Michio Kaku, Jennifer Weiner, Richard Price, and Nicholson Baker.

More details (and torrents) to come.

Twitter

Like Bud, I’ve found myself becoming something of a Twitter addict, embracing the space limitations and encouraging more impulsive streaks to fleck madly upon this microcanvas. I don’t think any of my tweets are particularly compelling, but Twitter is certainly a good deal of fun. And in a strange way, it’s actually helped me a little as a writer.

My own Twitter history has taken some twists. For a long time, I was dormant, putting up a tweet every two months or so. I had first attempted to use Twitter as a depository for pithy sentences in the style of David Markson. But this proved to be folly. This form did not serve the function. Then I used Twitter to vent about the personal, figuring that nobody was reading. But this was not the case.

Strange people began following me, seeming to believe that there were pivotal things that I was saying within this form. But now I’ve finally figured out Twitter’s purpose, which is more of the social-informational variety. I Twittered the two conventions and didn’t have to worry about how obvious my observations were. (Of course, as any improv teacher will tell you, what seems obvious to you may not be so obvious to another). I’m using it as a place for strange links. Strange as it may seem, I’m using it to ensure that just about every sentence I write is fueled by emotion.

But, most importantly, I look forward to reading other existential juxtapositions summed up in 140 characters. I’ve seen people come out of hiding because of Twitter, emboldened by a tweet and discovering that they do indeed have something to say about a circumstance. Bloggers and writers who are limited by what they are expected to write do not seem to experience the same concerns writing about other topics. Since we’re all limited to 140 characters, the playing field is level. We’re all limited to brisk declarative sentences galvanized by a steady supply of two-letter and three-letter words. Because of this, the more corporate tweets appear, well, laughably corporate. Of course, I’m sure the corporations will figure out ways to sully Twitter, just as they helped to take some of the fun out of blogging.

But for now, Twitter is not a bad place to check up on those who are swamped by email (and, hell, we all are) or those who don’t answer their phones. I’m certainly not on there all the time. And I’m certainly not advocating a life lived almost exclusively by intertextual communication. Contact with others is too important to the human spirit if you expect it to grow. But Twitter is a nifty technological apparatus offering a number of helpful ways to connect with others while learning more about the unexpected niceties of your first instinct.

The Bat Segundo Show: Markos Moulitsas

Markos Moulitsas appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #236. He is most recently the author of Taking on the System.

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Refusing to cut and run from Kenny Loggins and company.

Author: Markos Moulitsas

Subjects Discussed: Speculation on the effectiveness of protests, influencing the gatekeepers, Amy Goodman and other journalists arrested in St. Paul, small-time bloggers, Cindy Sheehan, “Free Mumia” promoters and promoting a message of unity, isolating activist sectors, Peter Dauo’s triangle of influence, Vietnam, whether or not Daily Kos has become a gatekeeper, getting media attention, Sheehan’s run as an independent candidate against Nancy Pelosi, Kucinich and the impeachment option, Ned Lamont vs. Sheehan, political narrative, the aborted Democratic presidential debate on FOX News vs. Obama’s appearance on The O’Reilly Factor, Sarah Palin, getting through to the other side, Moulitsas’s conclusions about FOX News viewers*, spreading misinformation and conjecture vs. open source journalism, why Moulitsas hasn’t employed a fact checker for Daily Kos, whether Moulitsas considers himself a journalist, and doing anything to win for politics.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: I wanted to actually ask you about your site. I mean, the Daily Kos was responsible for spreading the rumor that Sarah Palin’s son, Trig, was her daughter’s son. Howard Kurtz at the Washington Post actually asked you about this. And you said to him, “Our people are doing the vetting. Even if some of it is hitting dead ends, other ones are striking direct hits. My role is to sit back and let the citizen journalists do their job, and I amplify the stuff that shakes out.”

But I’m wondering, if this is misinformation or conjecture, what is this doing to increase the level of political discourse? Or to even help the credibility of Daily Kos? I mean, aren’t you essentially doing the exact same thing as the people who looked to Al Gore and said, “Oh, he invented the Internet.” Even though, as you pointed out in your book, well, it was intended as a joke. It was completely misconstrued. I mean, what of this? I know you have an engineer who you’ve hired. Why not hire a fact checker? Why not try to get it right? Why not actually go ahead and push the levels of reason higher than the mainstream newspapers who sometimes get things wrong?

Moulitsas: So you’re talking about me becoming the ultimate gatekeeper online by stifling anything that hasn’t been vetted by the great and mighty Kos. It is open source. It is a community. People are talking. They’re having a chat. It’s like the corner of — it’s like a sports bar. People get together and they talk about things. And, yeah, some of them are — some misinformation happens. But as a whole, the community shakes things out. This guy, who wrote the one diary, which is now infamous, right?

Correspodent: Yeah.

Moulitsas: Eventually he took it down. Because enough people at Daily Kos pointed out the flaws in the argument. And so the community was self-policing and finally realized, okay, this was a dead end. Now, of course, there was a lot of irregularities about that pregnancy that still are pretty much unexplained. I don’t think they’re explained by the original theory. But there’s some weird stuff. I mean, you don’t have your water break and then you wait ten hours to go the hospital. Because you give a speech and you go on a commercial flight to Seattle, and sit around, and take a commercial flight to Anchorage, and take a one hour drive to your hometown, and then have a baby when your water breaks. Especially a special needs child. Like Trig was. But that said, it’s her choice to make those decisions. You know, I’m a progressive. I’m assuming a doctor said it was okay for her to do that. You know, it’s between her and her doctor.

I am not Sarah Palin. I’m not trying to inject my morality into the public space. But there are some weird things that led people to ask questions. I think that’s perfectly natural. And they led to the reality that Bristol was pregnant. Which normally wouldn’t be relevant. Except that her mother (1) is a fierce opponent of sex education, is all about abstinence-only, and (2) she vetoed funding for a halfway home for pregnant teenagers. Right? So it actually matters when you legislate morality how that will affect your family life. I mean, the hypocrisy and everything else that’s attached to it.

Now that said, there’s also a great deal of investigative stuff that came out of Daily Kos that is now part and parcel of the confirmed background of Sarah Palin. Like her association with the Alaska Independence Party. The separatists.

Correspondent: Sure. But I’m talking about this misinformation here. I mean…

Moulitsas: Well, it’s all…

Correspondent: People are going to catch wind of this early part and then they’re going to look to you and say, “Well, I don’t know about Daily Kos. Sometimes, they get it right. Sometimes, they get it wrong. And I have to constantly fact check on top of this.”

Moulitsas: No, no, no. Good. I want people to look at media with a skeptical eye. Are you kidding me? If people did that, would we have rushed to war in Iraq so quickly? If people didn’t just blindly trust Judith Miller in the New York Times reporting?

Correspondent: Even at the expense of your own credibility?

Moulitsas: It’s not. The question isn’t credibility. Not my own. I didn’t write the stuff. Daily Kos people. I mean, this author’s credibility might be impacted. I don’t know. I didn’t write that stuff.

Correspondent: But the fact of the matter is that “dailykos.com” is in the link.

* Note: The specific report that Moulitsas may be referring to is this 2003 PIPA study which pointed out that FOX News watchers more most misperceptions than those who watched other networks. But there is a significant difference between FOX News watchers experiencing misperceptions and Moulitsas claiming that this audience is “the most reliable Republican constituency in the Republican party.” [sic]

BSS #236: Markos Moulitsas (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Daniel Levitin

Daniel Levitin appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #235. Levitin is most recently the author of The World in Six Songs.

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Recalling a traumatic musical episode from his marriage.

Author: Daniel Levitin

Subjects Discussed: Songs that straddle multiple categories within Levitin’s taxonomy, neurological response vs. societal perception of a song, the original eight categories, oxytocin, “I Walk the Line,” Nine Inch Nails, hypothetical subspecies of comfort songs, angst and emo, Janis Ian, social comparison theory, joy songs and advertising jingles, chemical levels rising in relation to specific musical genres, serotonin levels and music, cortisol, responding to Steven Pinker’s “auditory cheesecake” controversy, Steven Mithen’s The Singing Neanderthals, the evolution of language and music, David Huron’s “honest signal” hypothesis, attempts to predict hit music, advertising and music, insincere pop music, smart audiences, the pernicious use of music, the use of Van Halen’s “Panama” to get Manuel Noriega out of his bunker, music used to torture people in Abu Ghraib, and using music in ways that it wasn’t originally intended.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: We have six categories. Can you name a single song that can be applied for all six categories? Have you considered examples along these lines?

Levitin: I’m sure if you gave me enough time, I could.

Correspondent: You have thirty seconds. (laughs)

Levitin: (laughs) Well, I’m going to go with “I Walk the Line.” Because I think it’s a very rich song. In the book, I make the case that it crosses two categories.

Correspondent: It really walks the line here.

Levitin: Right. At the surface level, I believe that it looks like a love song. A guy singing to the woman he loves, “Because you’re mine.” There’s a “you” in it. “Because you’re mine / I walk the line.” I’m not cheating on you. But the point I make in the book is that really I think at a deeper level, he’s not really singing it to her. He’s singing it to himself. It’s like a musical string around his finger reminding me of all he has at stake here. “I find it very, very easy to be true / I’m alone when each day is through.” I don’t think so. I don’t think you’ve been alone every night. And I don’t think that you find it that easy to be true. I mean, I think it’s a struggle. And he’s reminding himself of all that he has at stake. That’s a knowledge song. Self-knowledge.

Now at the same time, I think that you can argue that there’s an element of comfort here. People who have been in a similar situation take comfort in hearing it expressed this way. I listen to music often because the songwriter helps me to understand feelings that I haven’t been able to articulate. The right song comes on. Aha! That’s how I feel. And I find that comforting.

Correspondent: I’m wondering also if identifying song by the six categories is a matter of identifying perhaps a dominant and a recessive category for each particular song. Perhaps a stronger song is more likely to have at least two categories attached to it. Or maybe some songs are utterly simple and just intended to serve one purpose. I mean, it all depends on any number of factors. Maybe you can talk about this a little bit.

Levitin: Well, I think the other aspect of it is that it’s not that the songs themselves fit into six categories. It’s that these are the six ways that people use music. The six ways that people have had music in their lives. The six ways that they use to communicate with one other.

Correspondent: I wanted to ask you about comfort songs. You cite specific personal examples. But I wanted to give you a personal example that I had as a teenager. I had a tendency to blast Nine Inch Nails quite loud. It was a comfort song to me largely because I would listen to this man who was utterly depressed. And I’d say to myself in a sad state, “Oh, you know, there is someone who is worse off than me.” And it was a way for me to corral my emotions with reason. However, the examples that you use in the comfort chapter tend to be people who are looking just for emotional comfort, but not this association between reason and emotion. And I was wondering if it’s very possible that we could be talking about two subspecies of comfort songs.

Levitin: What do you mean? The connection between reason and emotion?

Correspondent: Well, by listening to Trent Reznor, I would be able to immediately understand that my own particular emotions were somewhat folly in some sense. And the rational part of my teenage brain would kick in. And I’d say, “I’m beating myself up here for no reason.”

Levitin: Kind of like listening to Morrissey.

Correspondent: Yeah, exactly!

Levitin: “I want to kill myself.”

Correspondent: Any of the emo.

Levitin: “Everything’s bad tonight.” (laughs)

Correspondent: Yeah, exactly. I mean, should we draw two types of distinctions in comfort songs along these lines? I mean, we have to factor in emo. We just do.

BSS #235: Daniel Levitin

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The Bat Segundo Show: Courtney Humphries

Courtney Humphries appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #234. Humphries is the author of Superdove

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Severely underestimating the carnivorous impulses of pigeons.

Author: Courtney Humphries

Subjects Discussed: Eating squab, pigeon dining options in restaurants, Robert Dunn’s pigeon paradox, urban forms of nature, pigeons as an ineluctable aspect of the city, people’s attitudes towards wildlife, the pigeon’s place in the food chain, pigeons as the garbage disposal of Mother Nature, feral pigeons, interbreeding, when baby pigeons fend for themselves, distinguishing pigeon types, corpulent vs. svelte pigeons, individual variation, Daniel Haag-Wackernagel’s efforts to reduce the pigeon population in Basel, Switzerland, synanthropy vs. symbiotic relationships, the human failure to consider other species within our current habitats, being a social synanthropic animal, cooing sounds, birds imitating urban sounds, the difficulties of raising funds to study pigeons, Richard Johnston’s Feral Pigeons, artificial selection, General Mills’s funding of B.F. Skinner’s Project Pigeon, the folly of the pigeon-guided missile, overstating the cognitive potential of pigeons, Robert Cook’s experiments at Tufts, and Charles Walcott and pigeon homing.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: You’ve actually dined on squab. You allude to the fact that it’s delicious, that it’s dark meat. But as a carnivore and somewhat of a curio, I had to ask whether it tasted like chicken or like duck or like turkey. I mean, you didn’t go into specifics here. And I’m wondering if the experience was possibly unsettling or you couldn’t convince yourself completely that it was delicious. Because you also sympathized with these birds. But what of this?

Humphries: Yeah, I was a little bit nervous about eating them. At the time, I had been looking at pigeons for a long time and was working on this book. And so I was very interested in them. So I was a little worried about eating a pigeon, how I’d feel about it. But it was really good. Because it’s dark meat. They’re small birds. So you’re not getting huge pieces of meat. But it’s kind of a dense meat. It’s not fatty like duck is. But it’s good. And I had it again recently in Chinatown — in Boston, where I live — and it was crispy fried squab, where they didn’t deep-fry the whole bird. And they serve it to you cut in pieces including the head. So that was a little more.

Correspondent: With the head included, yeah.

Humphries: That was a little unnerving to me to have the head just lying there.

Correspondent: But you ate it anyway.

Humphries: I did. But I have to admit that I didn’t feel as great about it as the first time I had it, which was a very nice upscale restaurant. They just served some pieces of the squab sitting on some rice.

Correspondent: So that’s twice you’ve had pigeon?

Humphries: Yes.

Correspondent: Have you had it any other time?

Humphries: No, well, for one thing, it’s very expensive when you go to the nice restaurants. It can cost you a lot. You know, I wouldn’t mind trying more different varieties. I do feel that if I was eating pigeon all the time and talking about how great they are, maybe I wouldn’t. I’d feel strange.

Correspondent: You’d be branded in some sense.

BSS #234: Courtney Humphries

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The Decline of Editorial Standards: The Crimes of Nick Nadel

We all make mistakes. Grammatical gaffes have been committed on these pages, dutifully pointed out by readers. I am grateful for these corrections. This helps me to write better and reminds me again just how much I still need to learn.

But there comes a point when one must ask why those who commit a surfeit of mistakes remain consistently employed as writers. I’m sure that these people are nice, that they’re probably good lays, or that they are dutiful drinking buddies. But at the end of the day, one’s work is what counts most.

I have seen a marked increase in basic editorial standards being abandoned and/or disregarded by today’s “journalists.” It is a scenario that simply drives me crazy. If any of these young whipper-scriveners had committed these same mistakes a decade ago, these journos-come-lately most certainly would have been belted across the face by a pugilistic copy editor. And they would have deserved it.

In lieu of chasing these vandals off the grass with a pump-action shotgun and a crazed look in my eyes, I shall instead upbraid one of these editorial felons here.

Nick Nadel is an alleged “comedy writer who has worked for HBO, The Onion, Fuse, VH1, and others”. And I certainly hope that he wasn’t paid money for this embarrassing blog post at AMC TV. (A Google search turns up two editorial names at AMC: Carolyn Koo and Clayton Neuman. But I cannot find emails for them. Typical of corporate sites, there simply isn’t a shred of accountability here. Presumably, Koo and Neuman are too busy cooing their nomina to each other to pay attention to basic grammar.)

Let us count the ways in which Mr. Nadel, a purported professional, has committed an epic fail.

1. Mr. Nadel’s lede begins, “Much has been made over the years of the rivalry,” when he should really be writing, “Much has been made over the rivalry….” Unless, of course, he means to suggest that people have been contemplating the number of years over the rivalry? While I remain a dutiful counter, I don’t think this is the case, seeing as how the post purports to be about a feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

2. Mr. Nadel begins his second sentence suggesting that the subject is “two strong-willed legends.” But his true subject is the feud. This is sloppy. The sentence should begin, “The infamous feud between these two strong-willed legends….” Clarity.

3. The word “duo” is not a plural noun, but a collective noun. But don’t tell that to Mr. Nadel. He seems to believe that English speakers write phrases like “the water were flowing” and offers us, “The volatile duo were set to reprise….”

4. Mr. Nadel doesn’t understand that when you end a sentence with a question mark (in this case, a sentence containing the film title), there is no need for a period.

5. Mr. Nadel is terrible with his commas, failing to separate “illness” and “causing” to make these two clauses clear to readers.

6. Mr. Nadel writes that “Davis and Crawford had bad blood that dated back to 1935’s Dangerous.” But he has phrased this in a way to suggest that Davis and Crawford were more in need of constant venipuncture.

7. Mr. Nadel depicts “a cooler of Pepsi products.” Surely, he means a cooler with Pepsi products. To my knowledge, there wasn’t a machine in the early 1960s that cooled Pepsi products while discriminating against other bottles. Later, Mr. Nadel writes, “It’s unclear whether or not Davis was behind the machine.” He’s right. I don’t know if Davis was standing or hiding behind the machine either. But I do know that she might have been behind the installation of the machine.

8. Mr. Nadel writes, “she was rumored to have toasted eventual Crawford’s departure.” I’m unaware of eventual Crawfords, but I’m almost certain that they eventually depart.

And so on. And so on.

How did this get past the editor’s desk? Sheer laziness from the writer and the editor. Mr. Nadel’s inability to take the assignment seriously. Mr. Nadel’s unprofessionalism. He probably banged this out in ten minutes and didn’t think that anybody was going to look at it. And how does this reflect upon AMC TV’s blogging presence? A visitor like me stumbles upon this post by accident and I know immediately that this is a blog that is neither serious nor worth my time.

Then again, AMC TV brass may have considered that most of its readers don’t care about language. After all, this is a film and television crowd. Therefore, the audience should be regaled with the worst writing possible. But if we insist on poor and incompetent writing, is this not an insult to the audience’s intelligence? And if we insist on Mr. Nadel mangling his sentences for an interesting piece of gossip in film history, is this not a missed opportunity for context and conversation? And others to leap forward with other observations? If the Nick Nadels of our world write so badly, how will others get passionate about Joan Crawford and Bette Davis?

Incidentally, a more cogent article about the rivalry can be found here, which is considerably more interesting than Mr. Nadel’s lazy cut-and-paste from Wikipedia.

Roundup

“Hard” Questions

The above interview, which involved Campbell Brown questioning McCain campaign manager Tucker Bounds, caused McCain to cancel a planned interview with Larry King. The reason cited by McCain’s camp? “A relentless refusal by certain on-air reporters to come to terms with John McCain’s selection of Alaska’s sitting governor as our party’s nominee for vice president.” But the interview sees Brown simply trying to find out about Sarah Palin, while Bounds repeatedly declares that she has as much experience as the competition. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And here, questioned by Brown, Bounds cannot produce a single example to support his claim. And he’s their manager! The “relentless refusal” here doesn’t come from Bounds, but from McCain’s people. If they cannot be bothered to prove their argument, then they have no business presenting their impudent claims before the American people.

Barack Obama, by contrast, will be appearing this Thursday on FOX News’s The O’Reilly Factor.

So here we have one presidential candidate incapable of answering the most basic of questions and the other quite willing to appear on a talk show that is biased against him. While McCain certainly showed courage as a POW, it is quite evident that he is unwilling to evince one scintilla of this same valor in the present day. And if McCain truly believes that talking to Larry King, one of the most softball interviewers on television, represents a difficulty, then how can he be seriously expected to deal with the considerably greater challenges that may await him in the White House?

Roundup

  • Given the publishing industry’s many complexities, one would assume that the many imprints that pump out books harder than four ventricles burdened with an endless rush of cholesterol-heavy canapes would have the whole branding thing down. But as Sarah points out, this is not really the case at all. The smaller presses do indeed know their audiences and choose the volumes that fit. But while attempting to identify the qualities of a particular house is certainly an interesting parlor game, I’m wondering if this is really matters all that much. After all, publishing houses are in this business because they want their books to sell and make money. If the bottom line (that would be revenue) shows that one particular imprint is profitable and another is not as profitable, presumably this creates a sense of competition within the larger company. But an equally important question to consider is whether or not the people who bought Stephenie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn probably wouldn’t be able to tell you that it was published by Little, Brown and Company. If the various imprints under one publishing house exist to create the illusion of choice, then Sarah’s question is perfectly valid. But perhaps this all comes down to internal politics, or all this is a way of ensuring that a production process doesn’t get huge and unmanageable (although I suppose if all the imprints abandoned their imprint names for the corporate moniker, you could have Random House III, Penguin IV, and so forth). So the real question is this: if all this is about profit, does branding really matter in the end? It certainly matters for the indies, because many of them are designed and set up to cater to a specific audience. But if a corporate publishing house that has ineffective branding among its imprints makes more money than one that has their branding together, and the results that are rewarded are the quarterly revenue of all imprints, then it’s small wonder that only a handful of people care about how their imprints appear to the general public. Will more aggressive imprint branding sell more books? Well, this assumes that the people behind an imprint can explain to you what the hell their imprint actually stands for. It might help if someone starts systematically asking publishing people this basic question.
  • Top Shelf if having a $3 sale for the next ten days. There’s something in the area of 125 graphic novels available. So if you want to load up on comics or sample the waters, this is a great opportunity to help support one of the best indie comics publishers.
  • Over at Jacket Copy, David Ulin continues the ongoing discussion of Denis Johnson’s noir serial, “Nobody Move.” Part 3 was just unrustled to newsstands.
  • Terry Teachout doesn’t do Wagner. Funny that. Yesterday, I found myself arguing with someone about the pros and cons of Wagner. Oddly enough, I feel similarly about Bob Dylan, who is perhaps the most overrated, needlessly imitated, and excessively celebrated songwriter of the 20th century. Which is not to say that I entirely loathe Dylan. I’ve listened to just about every album through Shot of Love multiple times, and I like “Destination Row” quite a lot. But if we’re talking popular songwriters, I’ll take Davies, Porter, Arlen, Waits, Young, Wilson, Costello, Cohen, Lennon, Springsteen, and Weller — hell, even Prince — any day before Dylan. My inability to “get” Dylan probably has more to do with me. Each of the above cited songwriters had a goofy side that offset their intensity. It’s not that I can’t appreciate angst or deep brooding. Far from it. I’m just deeply suspicious of any artist who can’t be bothered to blow a raspberry from time to time. (And does “Rainy Day Woman No. 12 & 35” really count if everyone was shitfaced during the recording session?) You can find humor within the bleakest Mike Leigh film. You can find absurdity within James Joyce, Knut Hamsun’s Hunger, and Dostoevsky. But Dylan doesn’t have much of this — at least not to my ears. Of course, if there is some Dylan opus that I’ve completely overlooked, I’m happy to be set straight.
  • The invisible pregnancies of presidential daughters. Yeah, I’d say that Slate was overreaching. Maybe just a mite. Of course, William Saletan has a history of writing these generalization-laden essays. Witness his “Who really wants to debate the morning-after pill?” article and his strange fascination with IQ by race. What next? Will Saletan start lauding Samuel George Morton’s junk science? Or will we get a Saletan essay on whether women voters are naturally inferior to men? I’d like to see some intrepid journalist — if they can’t afford to hire anybody, maybe they can have an intern do this — run around the Slate offices with a ruler and start measuring the penises of all the male contributors. From here, this essential data can then be siphoned into a 4,000 word investigative article (or perhaps a weekly “discussion”) on the relationship between penis size and rhetorical ability. These are, after all, the most important issues of our time. (via Joanne)

Google Chrome is Bad for Writers & Bloggers

So Google has released a new browser called Chrome. But I’ll never use it. And it’s because Chrome’s EULA wishes to take anything that I type into my browser window (which would include, ahem, this blog entry, any email I access through the Web, and just about anything else involving the Internet) and give it to Google for them to use for any purpose. From the EULA:

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

I should note that “Services” is defined as “your use of Google’s products, software, services, and web sites,” but this is, to say the least, disingenuous. Anyone who uses Chrome will technically own the copyright, but who needs copyright when the Chrome user effectively gives up her right to distribute this content in all perpetuity and without royalties? So if Joyce Carol Oates is using Chrome and types an email to someone, she “owns” the copyright. But Google has the right to use anything that Ms. Oates types into Chrome for any purpose. And if someone reveals highly personal information through Chrome — like, say, the details of one’s sex life, an early draft of a novel, or some very embarrassing incident — Google has the right to reprint this anywhere. And not only do they get to reprint this content, but they can likewise generate revenue from it. Revenue that should, by all rights, go to the person who authored the content in the first place.

You have to hand it to Google. They’ve hit upon a way to take what’s out there on the Web, monetize the content for their own purpose while screwing over the person who labored over the words. Will we see new clauses in publishing contracts contain provisos requesting authors not to use Google Chrome as a web browser? After all, if Google can reprint it, this pretty much eliminates intellectual property rights.

Is this Google’s crafty way of getting around all the YouTube lawsuits and angry publishers? After all, if the content was submitted through Google Chrome, well, Google can reuse it. So if Stephenie Meyer slips up again and she was using Chrome, well, she’ll have no grievance against Google when Google “reprints” it for its “Services.”

So use Google Chrome if you’re perfectly happy watching your words taken by Google. Use Google Chrome if you don’t value your work.

[UPDATE: Based on the public outcry, Google has amended Section 11.1 of the EULA to read as follows:

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.

The offending sentence has been removed. It’s very heartening to see that Google takes these concerns seriously. And because of this, I shall probably take Chrome for a test drive sometime this weekend.]

Santa Claus to Shift Operations to the Bahamas

NORTH POLE (AP): Santa Claus, who has operated his toy factory for many centuries, announced this morning at a press conference that he would be shifting his operations to the Bahamas in light of the Arctic’s rapidly melting icecap, which has melted down to an island for the first time in human history. Mr. Claus plans to continue his important work in the Bahamas for now. But he informed reporters that he was considering a move to the mainland if sea levels started to rise.

“I’ve been in this business for many years,” said Mr. Claus, “and I thought my little patch of ice would sit here forever. But Christmas is too important to start taking chances. We need terra firma, not melting ice. On the bright side, Mrs. Claus and I will get some fantastic suntans.”

Mr. Claus’s team of eight reindeer are being trained to adjust to the rising temperatures, but at least one reindeer is experiencing some difficulty in adjusting to the heat. Blitzen has reportedly developed a heat stroke after being exposed to the sunny weather. Mr. Claus is now actively seeking a second-string reindeer, should Blitzen be taken out of commission. But Mr. Claus remained positive.

“They were dubious about Rudolph when he first started out,” said Mr. Claus. “Fortunately, we’ve been consulting with a few people. One of these consultants has suggested reindeer steroids, which appalled me. But we’re trying to keep things as pure as we can.”

Because of the considerable time it will take Mr. Claus to transfer his operations, this year’s Christmas shipping will be postponed from December 25 to January 8. Mr. Claus apologized to many parents for the delay and to many religious groups for the lack of coordination with their rituals and festivities.

“As you can imagine,” said Mr. Claus, “a global operation of this size can’t be transferred overnight. And, really, since I’ve been doing this for free for so many years, I hope that we can all work together during this difficult adjustment period.”

The delay was spawned by Mr. Claus seeking the assistance of the World Bank Group to help him with the costs of relocating. But World Bank insisted on having Mr. Claus sign a promissory note if he hoped to get the aid he needed. Both the International Red Cross and Amnesty International are now attempting to earmark funds so that Christmas can run on schedule.